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Mette Johansson: Speak like a leader

Do you have major butterflies in your tummy at every speaking opportunity? Nerves onstage are okay, says professional speaker and business coach, Mette Johansson. Focusing on your core message, and presenting your audience with clear benefits, could help these butterflies “fly in formation” and release positive energy, she says.

In this Altafy Exclusive, Johansson shares her top tips on how leaders can become more confident storytellers and build an authentic connection with their employees.

  1. Why is being a good public speaker important for leaders? How can it help raise their influence?

Being an outstanding public speaker means that you are highly skilled at motivating, engaging and inspiring an audience. Isn’t this core to leadership? Today, your team will not automatically do what you tell them to. They may be inspired to follow you and act on your inspiration, though!

2. What unique challenges are leaders facing when it comes to employee communication during this pandemic? How can good public speaking skills help?

Empathy is key. Many employees are stressed, anxious, and frustrated by the lack of freedom and social interaction. And that is just the average employee who is not facing insecurity over their continuous employment or financial strain after salary cuts!

 An empathetic leader will check in with their staff, lend an ear to frustrations, and seek to optimise the situation for each individual.

I’m not sure whether I see a direct link to public speaking skills, because it is rather about listening than speaking.

 The parallels are that whomever your audience and whatever its size, you’ll be more successful when you adapt to the audience – whether an audience of one, a few, or many. 

  1.  In your opinion, what are the top three qualities of a good public speaker?

i)Ability to put own ego to the side

I see too many speakers who love being on stage. They love the attention. They love to entertain. Think about it, though. How often do you remember the message when you were “entertained”? Speaking is not about sitting back and getting some diversion for 30 minutes. Speaking should provoke new thinking and inspire new action!

ii)Ability to inspire

As with the first point, the basis is often that we are purpose-driven as speakers. When it is about a purpose for the greater good – rather than a purpose for the greater me! – others with similar value systems are inspired. If we truly want to change something in the world, and we are authentic to that message, inspiring others becomes a piece of cake. Especially if we add the third skill:

iii) Word craft and delivery:

Eloquence, story telling, and a little acting helps too!

4. How can leaders get better at public speaking?

 Of course you can go to a Toastmasters club and learn their 10 steps. At KeyNote Women Speakers, the non-profit directory that I founded in 2017, we have a different approach: Speak about your passion. When you unleash your passion about a certain topic, and you channel that energy toward a solution on how the world can be a better place, you are very likely to gain an audience. Of course the crafting of the talk and the art of delivery help. Your passion, your conviction, your enthusiasm will bring you half-way there.  

 When we focus on our message, and on presenting the audience with a benefit, you are also likely to reduce the butterflies in your tummy. It will help you to make them “fly in formation”, as one of my mentors once said. I love that picture, because some nerves on stage are ok – as long as we channel the energy toward being on our toes and pass positive and enthusiastic energy onto our audience.

  1. How can leaders strive to deliver a more authentic and sincere message to their employees?

Authenticity is my core speaking topic. It’s widely misunderstood. Some people show a photo of their family, or mention how many kids they have, because they want to be authentic. This is only revealing a bit more about ourselves – but what’s authentic about it? By seeing a photo, I don’t know whether you just had a fight with your family this morning. Most people have families, so that is not really saying much about you, is it?

It’s not promising that there won’t be layoffs if you can’t predict this. It is not about sharing your fears when they are fearful.

 Your job as a leader is to lead your team, and if you are pouring oil on the fear fire, you are not a competent leader. And yes, sometimes it is about hiding that you are scared about the future – especially if your team needs confidence to remain on course. This is another mis-conceived notion of authenticity. Authenticity is not about being 100% honest or transparent at all times. It is about doing the right thing for others and yourself – according to your values.

Living a clear set of personal, core values is the key to authenticity. Consistently. Day after day. Authentic communication is about walking the talk about things that truly matter to you. Authentic communication and sincere messages to your employees mean that you are almost predictable. For instance, if you have always valued caring for your team, they will know that you will take care of them as much as your power and influence lets them. Authentic communication includes telling people that the situation is beyond your control – as soon as you find out.

  1. How can storytelling help leaders drive their message across?

 Storytelling is a powerful tool. In business, stories are not used enough. Stories activate the sensory areas of the brain and are spiced with facts. You are engaging the audience’s full brain capacity. Storytelling is 22 times more memorable than facts – and that’s a fact.

 Many of my clients have heard of storytelling, and we all think that we know how to tell a story. Unfortunately, there are only a few people who are truly skilled at this. Storytelling is not: “I went to the supermarket and purchased some bread and afterwards, I bumped into Charlie, who was angry”. That is a retelling of a course of events. Storytelling is when the audience is able to absorb it with their senses: “Walking past the bread section in the supermarket yesterday, I couldn’t resist the smell of freshly baked bread. Outside, in the pouring rain, of all people, I saw poor old Charlie, with a sulky expression on his face”. Now we are interested in knowing what happens with the bread, and why Charlie is in a negative mood, aren’t we?

 It is no different in the business world. Our business messages can become so much more relevant when we take our audience on a journey. 

  1. Your top three tips for effectively communicating and speaking to employees through remote means, such as teleconferencing, where the human element is often missing.
  1. Put a shoe box under your laptop to get the camera to eye-level, and then make sure to look into the camera! It doesn’t seem like eye contact to you – but it does to your audience. And it is all about the audience.
  2. Motivate (please do not force) people to turn on their cameras. You will be able to read their faces and see when they tune out, have questions, cannot hear you, or simply need a break. Also, do accept it when they are not motivated to be on camera. Sometimes, we need a break from trying to look our best.
  3. Value your audience by making it interesting for them and by making it interactive whenever you can. Ask them questions, and urge as many people as possible to contribute. It is your main mode of interaction, and your main way of engaging your team. Some companies have a fun game or quiz before they start their weekly meeting. Other teams appreciate checking in on how everyone is for a few minutes before starting the meeting. Listen to your team and understand what can help them thrive as much as possible under today’s very restrictive circumstances.

About Mette

Mette Johansson is a corporate trainer, business coach, a speaker and an author. She is the founder of MetaMind Training, a Singapore-based training company that transforms managers into leaders. MetaMind’s learning programmes are in the areas of leadership and interpersonal skills.

Mette worked in leadership positions for large multinational corporations for 15 years before founding her own training consultancy.

 Recently, Mette has become somewhat of a thought leader on Authentic Leadership in Singapore. With her programme “Unmask The Leader Within”, she helps leaders to “know thyself”, daring to be themselves, and practising human leadership. One of her upcoming books is on Authentic Leadership. 

MetaMind won the “Best Leadership Development 2020” award from APAC Insider and is a recipient of the Asia Women Icon Award and Insight Magazine’s “50 Most Promising Women in Business” award.

Having lived, studied, and worked in 11 countries, she’s a citizen of the world who now calls Singapore home.

For more information, visit: https://www.metamindtraining.com/



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